The California Department of Public Health will no longer accept any new expedited nursing staffing waivers, and those approved are set to expire next week, officials announced Monday.
Henry Mayo Newhall Hospital was among several in California granted a temporary expedited waiver from the state in December to increase the number of patients who nurses in intensive care units can oversee at one time amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
About a dozen Henry Mayo nurses spoke out in early January about concerns over the increased patient-to-nurse ratios. Some nurses outside of ICUs said they also felt the effects of the overload, including one in the cardiac telemetry unit who cared for six patients rather than four.
The state said Monday that all approved waivers will expire on Feb. 8 “unless CDPH determines on an individual waiver basis that there is an unprecedented circumstance” and that hospitals “must maintain efforts to meet required staffing levels at all times.” Department officials added they could conduct unannounced audits at hospitals if there is an indication that efforts to increase staffing are not being maintained.
Department of Public Health officials said their decision was due to staffing resources being more readily available.
“Additionally, patient and staff safety will be better secured through more individualized care and now that we have the resources to deploy additional staff to facilities, the goal is to get those needed staff to the facilities rather than waivers,” officials said via email.
California Nurses Association members declared the announcement a victory after protesting across the state, contending that understaffing in their hospitals was unsafe and untenable. Hospitals, however, including Henry Mayo officials, had said that the waivers came at a much-needed time as hospitals faced a surge in hospitalizations and remained at 0% ICU bed capacity.
“This is an incredible victory for patients and nurses because we know that safe staffing saves lives,” Zenei Triunfo-Cortez, RN and president of the California Nurses Association and its national organization, National Nurses United, said in a prepared statement. “It was our collective action as a union that defeated the money and lobbying power of the hospital industry, which we know is focused on the bottom line, not safe patient care.”
The move comes as the state saw a decline in hospitalizations toward the end of January. Most of the month saw a tally of more than 20,000 admissions and more than 4,000 of those in the ICU. As of Feb. 1, the state reported 14,443 hospitalizations and 3,857 ICU admissions. Similarly, Henry Mayo started January with COVID-19 hospitalizations in the high 90s and 80s and, as of Monday, has reported 71 admissions.